Let’s move away from the ‘quick fix’ approach and stop hiding ‘hidden’ disabilities.

A few months ago I was chatting to some friends about how there needs to be more disabled activists in the world and the different ways in which we could make this happen. We got onto the subject about the difference between physical disabilities and hidden disabilities.

About me

I was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP). CP is an umbrella phrase for those who encounter damage to the brain at the time of birth (usually due to the cause of a lack of oxygen) or at an early age. CP is not hereditary or life threatening and affects people in different ways, I have limited mobility.

If I am ‘out and about’ people instantly know that I am disabled as I can’t really hide my wheelchair from them. Therefore, I have never needed to ‘justify’ my disability to anybody as it has always been obvious.

I was asked on BBC Radio Manchester how I ‘dealt’ with being disabled. My reply was being disabled is just a part of me. Like most people who are born with a physical disability I have just adapted to my surroundings. Having CP in itself is not a barrier for me - in fact the reason as to why I was being interviewed was because I’m due to do a sponsored skydive for HOPE not Hate in March 2010.

I’m not saying everything is ‘hunky dory’ and obviously physically disabled people do face barriers in the world but a lot of the barriers faced are due to the fact that society has not fully caught up with the needs of disabled people. This is why I am a disabled activist. I am committed to promoting the social model of disability; this is that the term ‘disabled’ is largely a social construct (that’s a whole other blog, for a good explanation see - http://www.mdctrailblazers.org/campaigning/social-model).

Hidden disabilities

I have a lot of friends who have hidden disabilities ranging from aspersers to dyslexia to mental health issues.

From my understanding and observance, people find it difficult to understand the concept of hidden disabilities. I suppose, if you have a broken leg, then people know what tools are needed in order for that leg to be ‘fixed.’ It may be argued that the reason as to why people do not comprehend hidden disabilities is because the disability is not visibly obvious and therefore it cannot be ‘fixed.’

Some of my friends stated that it was easier for them to ‘hide’ their hidden disability as they did not want people to make an issue about it. One of my friends even suggested that opening up about their disability was just as difficult as telling people that he was gay.

The above got me thinking. Mental health is a disability and it is estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health issue over the course of their lives. It is also estimated that the suicide rate is twice above the national average with young Asian women.

I come from a Sikh family and have noticed that there has always been a lack of understanding when it comes to mental health. I know quite a lot of depressed Asian women and it seems like the community have a ‘snap out of it and get it fixed’ kind of thinking and attitude. There is still the idea that people can be ‘cured’ and that by getting a pill from the doctor or psychiatrist can ‘fix’ the issue.

My degree was in Psychology and eventually I want to be a Clinical Psychologist. I went to a seminar given by Jon Cruddas a few months back and he made the point that there needs to be a greater emphasis on sociology and psychology within the political world. I agree and his comment fits nicely with this blog.

It is very rare to find a ‘quick fix’ solution, especially for mental health issues. As a future psychologist I believe we need to step away from the ‘quick fix’ approach. It seems that nowadays as soon as somebody mentions the word ‘depression’ to their GP, anti-depressants are given out. I am not saying that such drugs need to be banned but I do believe that medical intervention should only be given as a last resort.

There needs to be more of an emphasis on what ‘support structures’ can be provided for individuals rather than changing the chemicals inside of their brains. I do not think the amount of mental health issues will decrease if correct support structures are in place but what I do think is that people will feel increasingly confident to use the tools that are provided to them to prevent incidents, such as suicide, from happening.

Closing remarks

I know I have focussed heavily on mental health issues but the same reasoning can be applied to other hidden disabilities.

I personally believe that ‘disability’ is around us much more than we think. Whether you choose to self define or not I bet you have a disability or know of somebody who has one.

Finally, during the ‘noughties’ we have seen disability enter the political spectrum in a much more positive light. We need to continue with this as finally the world is slowly beginning to come round to the Social Model way of thinking. I hope that during the next decade, not only should awareness be raised about disability but support structures are put into place and this can only happen with real action. If we are to change society’s perceptions and attitudes about hidden disabilities then greater engagement from both disabled activists and politicians is needed.

Rupy Kaur, Disability Coordinator, Compass Youth

Do you have a story to tell about an issue you care about? Email youthchair@compassonline.org.uk now!